Disney World Transportation Report: Bus Waits, Skyliner Storms & Airport Rides
Transportation is often a big problem point at Walt Disney World, with frustrated guests sharing stories of long or inconsistent wait times for buses, Skyliner delays, and more. This update will offer a report on our experiences traveling between resorts and parks–plus Orlando International Airport and the WDW area.
While transportation has long been an issue, the situation in the last couple of years has been different. The usual suspects have been factors, with capacity cuts last year giving way to staffing shortages once operational normalcy was restored. Previously, the Skyliner only allowed one party per gondola, making it difficult to arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot by park opening unless you lined up early.
Buses were better, but still only 6-8 parties allowed per vehicle and standing not allowed. Similar story for boats and monorails. All of this resulted in long lines and wait times for transportation at park opening, closing, and other peak travel times. Thankfully, none of those limitations have been in place for about a year, which alone dramatically improved efficiency and reduced issues.
Speaking of issues, there was the end of Disney’s Magical Express to start the year. The free shuttle took guests between Walt Disney World resorts and Orlando International Airport, and its elimination has had a ripple effect on other transportation, from Uber and Lyft to rental cars and other airport buses.
After that bad news to start out the year, our mid-2022 update is the bearer of good news on the Walt Disney World transportation front! (It’s also the bearer of new Cars photos from Art of Animation, since I don’t have photos to illustrate all of my transportation thoughts–and because I love that area of the resort.)
Before we delve into the improvements to Walt Disney World transportation, we want to preface this by conceding that it’s always possible to have a negative experience with Walt Disney World transportation. You could visit during the slowest week of the year in September and have a terrible time. You could go the week between Christmas and New Year’s and have a great one.
Two parties staying at the same resort for the same dates could have dramatically different perceptions simply by virtue of luck. That has always been the case and probably always will be. When it comes to Walt Disney World transportation, inconsistency is the only thing that’s consistent. With that said, we have extensively utilized WDW transportation in the last several months and have observed clearly noticeable improvements–although anecdotal, that’s what we’re going to report on here.
This update encompasses several stays at a range of different resorts over the course of multiple months at Walt Disney World. Obviously, it’s still anecdotal, but the ground covered here details our fairly consistent experiences at numerous Value, Moderate, and Deluxe Resorts. Aside from a few exceptions (which we’ll detail), the story has been more or less the same across the board.
Nevertheless, it’s always possible to have a negative experience that dramatically differs from what’s covered here. Or, you could have even better success getting around Central Florida. Horror stories and extremes are par for the course with Walt Disney World’s transportation network, and no longer even phase us. However, the trajectory is pretty clear.
Let’s start on a positive note: buses. Yep, buses. Walt Disney World is still contracting with Academy to provide relief to its bus driver shortage. If you’ve visited in the last 18 months, you’ve undoubtedly seen these buses around Walt Disney World.
This has helped address transportation woes, and in a big way. While staffing shortages have upended the consistency and quality of pretty much everything else at Walt Disney World, their impact on bus service has been minimal. (I’d go a step further and say it’s possibly positive. We’ve had better luck with buses this year than in a long time.)
Every resort at which we’ve stayed or visited in the last several months has been utilizing the bus wait time boards. Guests of those resorts can also find the wait times in My Disney Experience (here’s an explainer about where to find them).
These were such an improvement back when they debuted, but their reliability had deteriorated even pre-closure. These can be a huge asset when they’re working consistently and accurate, which is not currently the case. However, that’s for a good reason for once.
The third-party buses are not connected to the wait time boards or My Disney Experience feature.
Consequently, the board or app might display a time ~20 minutes into the future as the next arrival–or not display a time at all if several third-party buses are on that route. Despite that, an unmarked white charter bus will pull up within minutes, sporting a paper sign indicating where it’s heading. (After over a year of doing this, Disney might want to find a way to make this more “official.” We’ve seen several guests hesitant about getting on the random buses, apprehensive that they’re about to be scammed or something.)
Obviously, this is a good thing. The times displayed are now typically the maximum wait, with the exception of delays due to traffic when no third-party buses are on the route. Under-promising and over-delivering used to be the norm for Walt Disney World, and I never thought I’d use that to describe the bus network.
It does render the My Disney Experience app feature a bit useless. Back in the heyday of that, we’d actually use it to determine when to leave our room. The only time I use it now is to get screenshots for planned posts that I don’t end up writing (until now!). For personal use, I don’t even bother with the app times.
In general and almost across the board, our experiences with buses have been very, very positive. For all of the things Walt Disney World is currently doing wrong, bus transportation is absolutely not one of them.
We’ve used buses at the crack of dawn for Early Entry, during the middle of the day, for evening arrivals to the parks, and late at the end of the night. With only a few exceptions, we’ve had resounding success with the buses at Walt Disney World in the last few months. (Really, we praise predates that.)
Now, the caveats. First, one problem point is definitely Coronado Springs Resort. Over the course of a couple different stays there, there have been minor issues with long lines and packed buses early and late in the day.
This isn’t a new thing–it started pretty much with the opening of Gran Destino. It definitely seems like Disney planned on that tower primarily being utilized by conventioneers who are less likely to visit the parks. When there are no events and it’s booked by normal guests, the strain all of those rooms puts on the buses is significant.
One solution that has worked for us is heading to the parks very early in the morning, waiting until midday, and leaving the parks super late. If the bus returning to the hotel is packed, another is getting off at the first stop and walking to our building–that’s almost always faster (or at least more pleasant) than riding the full route.
Second, we do not typically travel around park opening or closing. You won’t find us leaving the resort within an hour of official opening time, nor do we leave the parks shortly before or shortly after closing.
These are the peak transportation times, and missing them is arguably an “oversight” for a post like this. But I’m not going to wait around or leave early for the sake of “research” to confirm what I already know. Lines are longer, buses are packed, and it’s just generally less pleasant. If this comes as a surprise, you might also be interested to learn that Times Square is a bit busy on New Year’s Eve.
No issues to report whatsoever with watercraft. We’ve seen some with cool new color schemes, but that probably doesn’t make them faster or more efficient (haven’t yet tested to confirm), so not really relevant here.
Admittedly, we don’t travel via watercraft very often. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely love a good boat ride. However, with the way we eat at Walt Disney World, we feel compelled to walk whenever possible, which eliminates using the FriendShips around Crescent Lake. We only really use boats for getting to the Wilderness (Fort and Lodge).
I’m always scared to say anything positive about the monorails because I fear being “rewarded” for my optimism with lengthy downtime on my next ride.
With that said, we’ve used the Highway in the Sky several times for park hopping between EPCOT and Magic Kingdom. It has been uneventful.
Turning to the Skyliner, which we’ll breeze over since we just covered mornings in Skyliner Strategy for Early Entry at EPCOT & Hollywood Studios.
In addition to this, we’ve used the Skyliner a lot for mid-morning and midday breaks at the resorts. It has been great for that, and deserves attention for leaving the parks 1-2 hours after opening. This can actually be a challenge with buses, which are prioritizing getting people from the resorts to the parks at that hour. Not so with the Skyliner.
The big issue with the Skyliner is during storms. We’ve gotten pretty adept at checking radars in weather apps and planning accordingly with regard to transportation. As a result, we’ve only had one headache in the last few months with the Skyliner closing and re-routing guests to buses. That doesn’t mean the problem has gone away…we’re just avoiding it.
This is actually our biggest transportation-related disappointment: that Walt Disney World still has not figured out a streamlined way of notifying resort guests when the Skyliner is down and deploying alternative transportation after ~ 3 years. This can be frustratingly inefficient, and it feels like one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.
In addition to planning ahead with weather apps, our advice is to just cut your losses and use Uber or Lyft if Skyliner downtime strands you and resort-to-resort transportation is needed. (Resort-to-park isn’t as bad, but isn’t “good” either.)
Since we’ve largely avoided this, I’d be curious to hear comments from readers who have stayed at Skyliner resorts recently and encountered gondola downtime. Maybe we’re skewing overly negative on this due to limited encounters (I don’t think so, but I’d love to be wrong!)
Finally, there’s the matter of transportation between Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World resorts. Since publishing our Mears Connect Review earlier this year, we’ve used that service a couple more times. That assessment remains accurate–it’s a lot like Disney’s Magical Express. Minus the “Disney” part…and the “Magical” part…okay, and the “Express” part, too. (In fairness, DME was never actually “Express,” either.)
We’ve also seen a ton of Sunshine Flyer buses out and about. This is probably just dumb luck, but our perception is that upstart service has a sizable fleet, which we honestly did not expect. Still, it’s difficult for us to use Sunshine Flyer because that requires planning airport transportation too far in advance.
We’ve also used Uber and Lyft a lot for getting to and from MCO. This has been easy and efficient, and we’ve never had any issues whatsoever with availability or wait times at the airport or on-property at Walt Disney World. That hasn’t always been the story at Flamingo Crossings–where wait times are usually longer–but it’s also out in the middle of nowhere. (It’s an odd dynamic–middle of nowhere, and yet, tons of people live in that booming area.)
Pricing with Uber and Lyft is absolutely all over the place. We’re primarily traveling between the Orange Counties (Florida and Southern California), which tends to put our MCO arrivals late at night (#timezonetroubles). I’d prefer early mornings, but not everyone in our traveling party agrees with me that red-eyes are the way to go. For whatever reason, MCO is often slammed late at night, which leads to surge pricing. We’ve paid as much as $70 for a ride to Walt Disney World via rideshare. I’m sure that’s not even close to a record–I’ve heard worse from others.
We usually depart Florida early in the morning or in the middle of weekdays, and rideshare prices are almost always significantly lower. Our range has been about $28 to $35 before tip for these trips. On that note, a couple of suggestions.
First, pull up both Uber and Lyft and compare prices. The vast majority of the time, we’ve found cheaper (sometimes significantly so) rides via Lyft–but not always. Second, opt for the “Wait & Save” option if you’re not tight on time. We did this once, got an immediate pick-up time, and have done it ever since. If you’re traveling at an off-peak time, this is usually easy savings and minimal inconvenience.
Almost forgot, but Minnie Vans have been out and about.
We haven’t used them, but they are in the wild once again. I have zero desire to pay triple the cost for a car with polka dots on it, but I have no doubt that the service is good. We’ll withhold our “testing” so you all have better success in booking the limited number of Minnie Vans. You’re welcome. 😉
Ultimately, it’s good to see the transportation situation going so smoothly at Walt Disney World. We’ve used the Skyliner, buses, and airport transportation extensively in the last several months, and have been pleasantly surprised across the board. With how much is going wrong in other aspects of the guest experience, this is very much a needed and refreshing “win.” (Watch, there will be dozens of comments contradicting our report and sharing how awful things have been!)
This is also quite the contrast to historical precedent. Back in the halcyon days of the Disney Dining Plan, free FastPass, Extra Magic Hours, etc., transportation was one of our biggest complaints. It was a frequent source of frustration, and incredibly commonplace to see 6 Animal Kingdom buses while waiting for an EPCOT bus. Our old trip reports probably have more rants about the buses than just about anything else.
Thankfully, this hasn’t been the case for years–and even predates the closure. Things started getting better with the bus wait time boards and My Disney Experience feature (I’m guessing backend upgrades were made around then to better allocate buses) and continued with the debut of the Skyliner. The reopening and physical distancing threw a monkey wrench in that, but it appears Walt Disney World transportation is back on track. With everything else that’s been going wrong, it’s great to see this going right!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have you used transportation at Walt Disney World recently? What has been the good, bad, or ugly for you? Traveled through MCO recently? What about with Uber, Lyft, rental cars, Sunshine Flyer or Mears Connect? Any recent encounters with the Skyliner during storm season? What about Walt Disney World buses between the parks and resorts the last several months? Have experiences of your own to share with regard to Walt Disney World transportation? (If so, please share your dates, resort, and typical travel times.) Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
How early does the boat run from wilderness lodge to MK?
A friend and I were there in late May and the bus service was great: billboard times were accurate, so buses were on time. Cool, clean, sometimes crowded, but listen to what the guy next to me said when I bumped up against him: “That’s OK; we’re all family here.” Does that not sum it up? We used buses from different locations, including Polynesian, Disney Springs, Epcot. Used the Skyliner from DH Studios and marveled at the ride itself and the great destination point of International Gateway, close to France and other points on World Showcase. I had been earlier in the year but my hard-to-impress friend had not, and boy was she impressed.
Here to remark on the Sunshine Express service. What I think is the most annoying thing, is that families with small children (one of Disney’s main demographic) have only the option of using Mears Connect or Sunshine to replace ME due to the other options being cost prohibitive, and also the carseat issue with the option of Uber or Lyft. We had two different experiences with Sunshine Express on the way to Disney, vs. back to the airport. We thought everything was going well to our resort, until I realized that the driver was headed to Wilderness Lodge instead of Fort Wilderness. When we arrived and I gently advised him that this was not the correct resort, he argued with me and showed me the paper that said “Ft. Wilderness” to which I said “Yes, Fort Wilderness Campground, not Wilderness Lodge” and he said “Yeah, Ft. Wilderness Lodge.” Anyone that is familiar with Disney, knows there is a stark difference between the two. Needless to say, he was very irritated that he had no choice but to take us back to the campground, and delay his trip, when in fact he was in the wrong. It kind of soured me, and had me concerned that they would try to pick us up from the Lodge and not the campground at the end of our trip. That did not happen, and our pickup was seamless/uneventful. One bad apple, but it did make me ever more annoyed that ME was discontinued. I did find it curious that our luggage attendant both at drop off and pick up asked who we were getting transportation from, which makes me wonder if they are secretly collecting data to determine if it makes sense to bring back ME. #pipedreams
Our Skyliner experience from Caribbean Beach was good last week, except for the weather closures and lack of communication. In 5 days we were there last week, the Skyliner shut down twice for storms. Once it shut down at closing of Hollywood Studios in a lightning storm with torrential rain (severe weather alerts). We made it to the Skyliner before any rain started, but it was closed already. We got to the bus stop before the rain started but still ended up drenched due to the gap in the HS bus covers while we waited 40 minutes for a bus. Thank goodness the hail in the severe weather alerts did not materialize because there is literally no where to shelter at the bus stations. Our bus left for Caribbean Beach fully packed with standing passengers, with people still in line for the next bus. Meanwhile the 1 Riveria bus that came and left was half loaded. During a severe weather event that should not have happened. They should maximize what buses they have. Disney has no notification system for Skyliner shut downs. They did not handle the severe weather events well in my opinion. (Side note: other guests we talked to who tried to shelter in place in an indoor ride were eventually run out an hour after park closing into the storm.). The next weather event closure, we just took an Uber.
A warning for using Lyft from All-Star Music:
The app gives a dropdown of pick-up locations (we chose Country Fair 6), but the drivers are not provided with the specific location so they just go to the lobby in front. Anyone who has stayed in the back of any All-Star knows this is a significant distance gap.
Our first Lyft driver left us (even though we texted her our specific location). Our next try was with Minnie Van and cast member service saved the day (and our ADR). When I texted we were at Country Fair 6, he took the time to figure out where that was.
Another note regarding Minnie Van service…they can accommodate ECVs (select vehicle 1-8) whereas the general Lyft fleet of personal drivers cannot.
2 stays at Riviera in the last year, so a few Skyliner observations:
Weather downtime hasn’t been a big issue. Most Florida storms are brief, so 30-60 minutes downtime. But at least for me, that’s not time I’m looking for transportation anyway. I’m more likely to wait out a storm in the hotel or an indoor theme park space.
Park opening… skyliner lines have never been really bad.
Only (significant) issue — park close at Epcot. Same may happen at DHS when fantasmic comes back. Those lines can get truly insane.
To alleviate the issue, just wish they would officially offer alternative bus transportation at Epcot. They do offer it unofficially. Got separated from my wife and friend, they wandered out the main entrance. They were directed to a resort bus, with the driver making an extra stop at Riviera.
I know bus shortages is still an issue. But a few buses just at park close for Skyliner resorts would be very helpful.
Does anyone know if the ferries run at Christmas? Can you go from the Yacht Club dock to MK? There was a post by Tom that mentioned it at one point, but was told it may not be an option.
There is no ferry from yacht club to MK. MK boats service GF, Poly, transportation center, Contemporary. Wilderness fort & lodge. Yacht club boats service yacht & beach club, boardwalk, swan & dolphin, Epcot and HS. Port orleans boats service port orleans, Disney springs Saratoga and old key west. To get from yacht club to MK either bus, Uber, own car or if you can get intro Epcot walk to front to monorail.
Thank you so much! I am learning a lot today 🙂
I can tell you about the experiences we had this week with the skyliner going down. When the skyliner was down at park closing for Epcot, you were able to walk to Beach Club and take a bus. The bus from there displayed Skyliner Resorts, so I’m guessing it went to all four of those resorts, we were going to Disney Springs so we didn’t take that bus. (On a side note, the bus we had that night to Disney Springs leaked during the pouring rain.) When we took a bus from Hollywood Studios to Pop Century, the bus was the last bus stop. I was understandable those would be there furthest stops since they are not constantly used. We got there as a bus was pulling into the bus area for our resort so we didn’t have to wait long. The bad part was as we got to the stop the skyliner started again. We were told at the skyliner station they shut down if there is lightning within 6 miles and there needs to be no lightning for 30 minutes for them to start up again. Unfortunatley, they were not able to tell us how long it would be before the skyliner restarted.
We are planning a trip in April/2023. Do you think the Magical Bus will be available from MCO to pop century?
If you are refering to Disney Magical Express free service from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney Resort, this service is no longer available. Contact Mears Connect, Skyliner Flyer from paid transportation service.
Thank you. That is what I was referring to. That’s kind of a bummer.
Is it possible to use the monorail from EPCOT to MK if your park reservation is MK?
We were just there and used the monorail on non-park days several times. You have to go through security but you don’t need a park reservation to do that, so you should be all set!
Thank you Hilary! I am so glad to hear that’s an option.
When the Skyliner shuts down for weather, if you leave via the International Gateway and pop over to Beach Club, there are buses to take people to Skyliner resorts! You don’t have to run all the way back to the front of the park!